Mayor Richard Atwell, here seen delivering the mayor’s annual address, says Saanich needs to be more prepared for future emergencies. (District of Saanich webcast)

Saanich mayor’s address draws flak from councillor

A Saanich councillor believes portions of Mayor Richard Atwell’s annual address showed “disrespect” towards other members of council as he called on council to exhibit a higher standard of conduct.

“I think he showed disrespect to his colleagues at the [Capital Regional District] and the decision makers,” said Coun. Leif Wergeland. He made these comments about the portions of the speech during which Atwell offered a lengthy critique about several elements of the $765 million regional sewage project, including its governance (which he considers unaccountable) and the recent decision to cancel plans for a facility that would have streamlined various waste streams under the heading of integrated resource management (IRM).

“In politics, integrity is everything,” Atwell said in the speech. “Once you lose it, it becomes very hard to get back and despite all the efforts and reports, and votes and good intentions ultimately what killed IRM was the need to protect the integrity of decision makers which often comes at the taxpayer’s expense.”

This and other sections of the speech dealing with sewage were “offensive,” said Wergeland. “He didn’t name anyone…but we know there are five [Saanich] directors down there, so it’s not rocket science to put names to them. From that point, it was unfortunate.”

Atwell, along with Couns. Judy Brownoff, Susan Brice, Colin Plant and Dean Murdock, represent Saanich as directors. Wergeland also serves as an alternate director.

Atwell, along with Plant, opposed cancellation of the IRM, while Brice and Murdock supported it, joining Brownoff, who chairs the committee that had recommended cancellation.

Atwell’s speech references the committee without mentioning Brownoff’s name.

While Wergeland said Atwell “probably” did not cross council’s code of conduct, it is not becoming of a political leader to keep coming back to an issue well after it appears settled. “In my mind, you have to move ahead,” said Wergeland.

Atwell, for the record, said in his speech that “[building] the sewage plant is the right thing to do.” He added in a later interview that his critique of the project was not personal in nature.

“I’m not sure where the offence is taken,” he said. “My opinions are strong, but they are based on my support for the taxpayers.”

Atwell said his critique should not be read as a specific critique of individual Saanich councillors, who are just part of a larger process that has failed taxpayers. “It is the [18-month-long] process, and the politics of the process that I’m criticizing,” he said.

“What took place over the period of almost two years was a dragging of heels working to a timeline so long and unnecessary that it would guarantee that the majority of contracts would be in place for the main project, locking down the solution and the exorbitant costs for taxpayers and the resulting industry profits,” said Atwell in his speech.

Atwell’s speech, as well as his later comments, also make it clear that he is not prepared to let this issue go. In his speech, Atwell raised questions about the accountability about the unelected board overseeing the project, which “can be best described as being on auto-pilot from a governance standpoint.”

He reiterated those comments in the interview. “We always have to be looking at it no matter where it is.”

Wergeland for the record said he like the other portions of the speech.

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